It is common knowledge that we are facing a climate crisis and that the choices we make today will determine the fate or our planet. However, little attention has been paid to one of the most important contributors to climate change: agricultural production and consumption.
According to recent carbon footprint analysis, the complete
cycle of global meat production alone accounts for about 18 percent
of global greenhouse gas emissions, with the entire chain of food
production and consumption accounting for 20 percent.
- Land conversion and plowing releases large amounts of stored
carbon as CO2 from vegetation and soils. About 50 percent of the
world's surface land area has been converted to land for grazing
and crop cultivation resulting in a loss of more than half of the
world's forests. Deforestation and forest degradation releases
carbon through the decomposition of aboveground biomass and peat
fires and decay of drained peat soils.
- Carbon dioxide and particulate matter are emitted from fossil
fuels used to power farm machinery, irrigation pumps, and for
drying grain, etc., as well as fertilizer and pesticide
- Nitrogen fertilizer applications and manure applications as
well as decomposition of agricultural wastes results in emissions
of nitrous oxide.
- Methane is released through livestock digestive processes and
- Altered radiative fluxes and evaporation from newly bare
- Increased geographical distance between producer and consumer,
together with regional agricultural specialization, has resulted in
greater energy use for transportation.
Different agricultural systems vary enormously in their
respective global warming impacts. Generally, small-scale,
agroecological farming and consumption systems producing for local
markets at low levels of processing and packaging have
substantially less global warming impacts than large-scale
commodity production for global markets.
Steps to Reduce Climate Change
A continued rise of meat production would be the single most
important contributor to further global warming from agriculture
and could hardly be offset by other measures. The good news is that
soils can actually sequester carbon long-term, so agriculture is
one of the only economic sectors with the potential to reduce
rather than increase human greenhouse gas emissions by absorbing
carbon dioxide. Reducing these greenhouse gas emissions and
increasing the long-term storage of carbon in the soil are
essential measures to prevent a climate catastrophe.
Food security and climate briefing